Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Peter Brown's White Paper on the Economy

I've been pretty hard on Peter Brown during his run for mayor of Houston. Last week he did something that deserves some credit--he released a white paper that provides some details regarding how he would improve Houston's economy. That part is laudable. And it demonstrates just how destructive his ideas are.

The paper starts with what might sound like a good idea:

City government should do everything it can to play a supporting role and partner with the private sector to grow the economy. And that includes making the right investments and providing effective city services. But at the end of the day, government should get out of the way and let businesses do business. [emphasis added]
This last statement is certainly true, and it sounds appealing to any advocate of individual rights. However, as is often the case, if we dig a little deeper we discover that these words are nothing more than empty platitudes.

As mayor, Peter Brown will simplify, streamline and strengthen City regulations like the Chapter 42 development code to ensure they promote high-quality growth and encourage investment, while at the same time maintaining our quality of life.

How, you might ask, will city government "get out of the way" while simultaneously strengthening city regulations? The fact is, it won't. Tougher regulations and controls on developers is certainly not getting out of the way--it means more barriers to conducting business and more groveling at the feet of bureaucrats and politicians for those developers. Unless of course, they have the proper connections.

Brown wants to do more than simply dictate to developers. He wants to control the city's economy by creating an "Office of Economic Development and Job Creation". While he denies that this is economic planning, the facts say otherwise. Brown proposes to use city money to train workers:
Having identified targeted economic sectors for growth, job training and workforce development should reflect those priorities and focus on training workers for the fields where growth and jobs will be created. And vocational training efforts need to be expanded to provide opportunities for all Houstonians in the new economy.

While a trained workforce is certainly an important component of economic growth, it is not a proper function of government. By targeting specific "economic sectors for growth", Brown seeks to use government to promote certain industries. And who will pay for this favoritism? Those who are not in the targeted industries.

In other words, Brown will identify where he wants job growth to occur, and then will use the coercive power of government to encourage that growth. Businessmen and entrepreneurs in industries that Brown does not like will have to put their plans and aspirations on hold while Brown molds the city's economy according to his desires. And he makes it quite clear how he will accomplish this:
The City should employ a diverse array of economic recruitment tools and incentives to facilitate growth in Houston. These include tax abatements, enterprise projects and enterprise zones, tax increment reinvestment zones (TIRZs), and public-private partnerships – all designed to promote growth while protecting the quality of life.

Using a combination of carrots and sticks, Brown will wave the lure of tax abatements and other benefits to bribe developers. And if that doesn't work, he can use the stick of TIRZs--he can use tax money to spur development in certain areas, and force existing property owners to pay the cost. But this isn't the most ominous aspect of Brown's plan--he wants to use public-private partnerships to promote growth.

Consider the nature of such "partnerships". One side--the government--holds the ability to demand and dictate. The government can criminalize certain actions on the part of a private business. The government can force its "partner" to do anything it--the government--desires. This is the same type of "partnership" that exists between a shop owner and the street thug who demands protection money.

Brown has no intention of getting out of the way of businesses. He seeks more control over their operations through tighter regulations, job training, TIRZs, tax abatements, and a myriad other means. He wants to use the coercive power of government to protect our "quality of life" and grow our economy. By placing more shackles around our necks, his plans will accomplish neither.

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